The stylish vegan can indeed have it all. Just ask Joshua Katcher.
His BraveGentleMan label is teaming up with Natural Fiber Welding to launch a polished collection of gender-neutral shoes and accessories that is not only cruelty-free but plastic-free as well.
“The future is bio-based, but the leather industry would like people to believe that you must choose between animal skins and plastic,” Katcher said. “This binary not only ignores existing data about the enormous toll that conventional leather takes on biodiversity, climate, animals and resource usage, but it ignores visionary innovations like Mirum that compromise nothing.”
Mirum is one of Natural Fiber Welding’s tentpole products. A customizable composite derived from plant-based waste such as cork powder, rice hulls and coconut fiber, the Allbirds-approved material mimics the look and feel of cowhide sans cow. Unlike many ersatz leathers, including some made with fungus or cacti, Mirum employs no fossil fuels—not even during finishing, when petrochemical-based binders or finishes might creep in. As a result, the material can be ground up and returned to the earth at the end of its life, though Natural Fiber Welding would rather take it back for recycling first.
Katcher is recladding some of BraveGentleMan’s most popular silhouettes, including a boot, an Oxford shoe and a tasseled loafer, in Mirum. He’s also throwing in a new silhouette: a sculpture-like sneaker with an injection-molded outsole made of fairly harvested rubber, a natural cork insole and a waste-diverted textile sock. It’s “quite a departure from our more traditional footwear,” said the designer, who 3D-drafted the outsole himself. Prices for the footwear, which is available for preorder and poised to drop in late fall, start at $290 and top out at $350. Also in the mix is a $120 belt and a $190 bifold wallet. Everything is made fairly at an all-vegan factory in Brazil.
“NFW is thrilled to partner with Brave GentleMan,” Natural Fiber Welding CEO Luke Haverhals said. “Joshua Katcher is a true artisan in his craft and we are thrilled he chose to feature Mirum across his entire collection. The NFW team is so proud to see Mirum in Brave GentleMan men’s dress shoes and represents a step in right direction for the entire industry.”
Katcher has been waiting for this moment.
“When I started Brave GentleMan in 2010, I wanted to use the best vegan materials and push the boundaries of how vegan footwear was perceived,” Katcher said. “I’ve been following Natural Fiber Welding’s progress for years and it feels momentous to start using such a game-changing material that is beautiful, vegan and free of plastics.”
The timing for his sneaker couldn’t be better. When Nike launched a vegan Air Jordan collection in partnership with Billie Eilish last September, shopping platform Lyst found a 67 percent jump in searches for vegan sneakers. In 2021, pageviews for vegan leather spiked 178 percent year over year while those for biodegradable sneakers jumped 348 percent.
With climate anxiety at its all-time high, consumers are clamoring for more sustainable options. Mirum, per Natural Fiber Welding, requires no water during manufacturing or dyeing. A square meter of the material generates between 0.8-2.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent from cradle to gate, a recent life-cycle assessment found. This impact is a fraction of the 110 kg of CO2e associated with cow-based leather and 7-15.8 kilograms of CO2e for polyurethane leather, the company said.
Mirum, which also works with brands like Bellroy, Camper and Pangaia, is also ready to scale, according to Haverhals. In July, Natural Fiber Welding announced a partnership with Veshin Factory, a vegan fashion manufacturer based in Costa Rica and Guangzhou, to make it easier for brands to source, design, scale and launch Mirum-made merchandise. That’s on top of the 110,000 square feet of manufacturing space Natural Fiber Welding already operates in downtown Peoria in Illinois, where it will eventually produce tens of millions of square feet of Mirum a year.
“Through this collaboration, we are giving designers never-before-possible options for circular products and regenerative natural ingredient sourcing,” Haverhals said. “Together we are making room for complete circularity and creating access for brands who want to be more conscious and sustainable.”